The Abbey

Rising above the house and gardens, the tower of the medieval abbey is a constant reminder of the history of this once sacred place. The Abbey dates back almost 1000 years to 1064 and St Francis himself is documented to have visited on at least two occasions while travelling between Assisi and Gubbio. Long before Roman occupation of the area (around 310 BC) there was an Etruscan settlement on the site.

A Brief History of the Abbey
900 Bonizo “Vir Magnificus” occupies the Etruscan site.
1064 Construction of the tower commences.
1100 (28th May) The Church is consecrated.
1109 The monastery is established by papal bull on the 29th of April 1110 with Guido as “Abbas” with seven or eight monks.
1367 The Abbey is sacked by the English mercenary Sir John Hawkwood (known as Giovanni Acuto).
1468 The Abbey is endowed with the Roman church of San Salvatore in Lauro.
1592 Having been refused food and drink, the outlaw Alfani and his followers storm the Abbey, imprison the monks and lead the naked Abbot round the village with a noose round his “private parts” until he agrees to leave Umbria for ever – after paying a large ransom.
1593 A severe earthquake causes the top of the tower to fall and leads to the still visible, and dated, buttressing of the west wall.
1699 The Abbey is secularised and for nearly a hundred years contains no religious community.
1770 The monastery is reborn under the Cistercian order and struggled for survival for another 38 years.
1808 The monks depart, leaving only the church that remains active for another 20 years.
1860 The national suppression of religious houses allows the State to sell the Abbey and the land to a private owner.
1969 The abandoned ruins of the Abbey are bought by Mr.Guy Norton who sets about the restoration of the entire estate to its present high standard.
2003 Title to Abbadia Celestina passes to current owners.
From 1970 until 1973 an international team of archaeologists and historians sponsored by the British School of Rome (a post-graduate school) in collaboration with the “Sovrintendenza alle Belle Arti” organised excavations and historical research. Copies of the resultant publications are in the library. The next 20 years were spent, not in restoration, but in the conservation and landscaping of the magnificent ruins.

In collaboration with Dario Fo, Italy’s Nobel Prize winner for literature, a wooden stage was constructed, with dressing rooms below, to facilitate the presentation of concerts and plays to invited audiences of up to 300 guests.

Dario’s unexpected familiarity with both the history of the Church and mediaeval architecture allowed him to use the crypt to give an impromptu lecture on the association of the Abbadia with St.Francis of Assisi. By 1970 only those walls higher than 3 metres were still visible amongst the tons of rubble left by sixty years of plunder by local peasants seeking shaped stones for building their own homes. The removal of this rubble, under the direction of the archaeologists, finally revealed the original form of the monastery in the eleventh century.

Most recently the base of the tower has been restored and converted into a beautiful private chapel that can accommodate up to 20 people. Although not consecrated, a local English priest frequently visits the Abbey for private blessings, readings and other spiritual events.